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Blood Club
by Walt Schnabel

Published: 2009-11-01
Paperback : 260 pages
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Membership has its price! A quaint New England town has a secret that hides behind the white clapboard houses and tall church steeple. The secret is as deep and dark as the local lake which has attracted visitors for two centuries. Brian Barrett followed his wife Sarah and young son Sam to Barlow ...
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Introduction

Membership has its price! A quaint New England town has a secret that hides behind the white clapboard houses and tall church steeple. The secret is as deep and dark as the local lake which has attracted visitors for two centuries. Brian Barrett followed his wife Sarah and young son Sam to Barlow to repair their shattered marriage and escape his romance with the bottle. One early spring morning, Barrett gazes through the rear window onto the school grounds which border his property. His attention is drawn to an aberrant ritual about to unfold on the play set. Barrett intervenes but soon realizes that this event is merely the opening volley of a battle he must wage with an ancient and unlikely evil that seeks to consume his family.

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Excerpt

The long New Hampshire winter had been reduced to dirty piles of snow that hid in the shadows where the spring sun could not yet reach. Sugarhouse alchemy was beginning to convert the rising lifeblood of maple trees into amber gold as daylight waged its ancient battle with the darkness.

Brian Barrett stared out the back windows of his house at the pressed brown grass that would soon morph into a green creature demanding to be mowed at least once a week. Three robins hopped around––the first that Brian had seen. The daffodil bulbs he’d scattered, then planted in the field last fall, were beginning to send their probes from the ground––tiny green periscopes checking to see if the coast was clear.

He drained the last gulp from his coffee mug and let the bitter liquid dribble down his throat. It was his fifth cup. He had taken to drinking his coffee black when caffeine became his drug of choice.

Brian wrapped his long, slender fingers around the empty mug, drawing the remaining warmth from the ceramic as if it were a touchstone. His hands were no longer familiar to him, having been transformed from unblemished and manicured into a mosaic of gouges and blackened nails. The man who looked back at him, refracted by the ancient windows, was a familiar stranger. His close-cropped hair had turned the color of milk glass. Oxford cloth and chino had been replaced by flannel and denim. But the windows did not reflect the uncertainty of Brian’s future. He found himself in the unenviable position of being too old to start another career yet too young to retire, and wondered if fitting tourists for hiking boots at the outdoor equipment store would consume the rest of his working days.

Brian coaxed one of the windows open to release some of the stale winter air. A damp, earthy smell rushed in on a cool breeze to take its place. The sounds of children on the playground, just beyond his property line, drifted in along with the fresh air. But Brian had let something else in as well––something colder and darker than a spring breeze can produce.

The school playground was separated from the house by the length of a football field. That, combined with the wavy glass in the old windows created a slightly surreal image that reminded Brian of an impressionist painting come to life. The children were brightly-colored blurs, barely distinguishable by gender. From this distance, it was impossible to determine if they were bright or dull, rich or poor. Sometimes Brian thought he could pick Sam out from the rest of the kids, but he was never really sure. He was slightly taller then most of the other fifth grade boys his age and had sandy hair, courtesy of Sarah’s genes. He would have only one more year at the elementary school before he moved on to the regional junior high in the next town.

Brian heard a high-pitched screech––not unusual if you live near a playground; little girls will scream with the slightest provocation. Perhaps a boy was chasing her and the message in the scream was, “Don’t chase me!” or, depending on the boy, “Chase me but don’t get too close.” Brian smiled at the contradiction that mystifies boys of all ages.

He scanned the playground, watching the group dynamics at work. It seemed to him that a child’s playground is a microcosm of the real world. Some children played games in large groups while others preferred groups of two or three, still others played solitaire––learning the steps to a dance they would do the rest of their lives.

Brian stopped scanning when the play set entered his line of vision. About ten kids had gathered at the base of the jungle gym equipment––not that strange, except the entire group was standing there not moving, looking up, as if they were witnessing some kind of a ceremony. Brian angled a little more to the left to see what they were looking at. A yardarm stuck out from the play set with a climbing rope attached to it. The kids could shinny up the rope to reach the top deck as an alternative to the stairs. He squinted his eyes to try and sharpen the image. A boy standing on the edge of the platform appeared to be slowly wrapping the rope around his neck. He was just high enough so that the rope would break the fall and probably his neck. Brian couldn’t make out the boy’s face, but he could see that he was tall and he could see that he was blond and his immediate thought was, Jesus Christ, that’s Sam!

He was only vaguely aware of his coffee mug smashing on the floor. Where the hell are the teachers? he thought. Call the school, came next, then, By the time I get the number and get hold of Mrs. What’s-her-name it could be too late! He ripped open the door that separated the kitchen from the shed and forced his feet into the old boat shoes he kept there––getting his right foot only partially in before he made his move out onto the porch.

As he rounded the side of the connected barn that finished off the house, his mind was moving faster than his legs, a bright silver pinball bounced between a bumper that said IS SAM and one that said NOT SAM.

By the time Brian reached the path that was trampled down by Sam’s repeated trips to the basketball court, he was running faster than he thought he still could.

The pinball in his mind was now a blur. IS SAM…NOT SAM..IS SAM...NOT SAM. IS SAM. NOT SAM. IS SAM NOT SAM IS SAM NOT SAM IS SAM NOT SAM… ISSAMNOTSAM…

His right foot hit a low spot on the trail that retained moisture longer than the rest of the field. His surgically repaired knee buckled. The soles of his boat shoes were like polished marble and his foot slid as if he had hit a patch of butter. He felt mud coat his entire right side as his shoulder mashed into the ground. He looked up at the kid on the platform and could see his face plainly from where he was. The bumper that said NOT SAM lit up and the pinball dropped helplessly into the dead ball slot. Thank God.

Brian struggled to get to his feet. The kid on the platform wasn’t Sam but he was some mother’s son and he still had that goddamn rope wrapped around his neck. If he chose to jump or some other kid was pushed into him, he would be dangling with his face turning purple and his eyes being forced out of his head by a nylon executioner.

He shuffled, more than ran, the rest of the way––dragging his throbbing leg. He rolled over the chain link fence that divided the two properties, shouting for the kid to stop, but the boy didn’t seem to hear. Brian sucked some of the cool spring air into his lungs, then limped up the wooden stairs.

The boy was teetering on the edge of the platform. His knees began to flex. The kid was going to jump. Brian lunged for the boy and grabbed him from behind just as he was about to go over the edge.

He held the kid tightly and the first thing he became aware of was the pounding of the boy’s heart. It felt as if it would rip through the thin nylon jacket he was wearing. The kid began to sob, huge rivulets streaking down his freckled cheeks. Brian smelled urine––the boy had wet himself. The rope had been wrapped around several times and tied into a slipknot. Brian untied it, unfurled the rope. As he did, he noticed a thick layer of built-up crud on the kid’s neck––the kind of dirt that can only be acquired by days or even weeks without a bath. But along with that were deep, wet, pink rope marks, as if the rope had been tightening itself around the boy’s throat.

The crowd of children that had gathered below gave a collective sigh that Brian could only classify as disappointment. He would never forget the cold expressions on their faces, only animated by his appearance, which had ended the show.

Two female teachers standing on the other side of the playground became aware of the commotion and hurried over, as did most all of the other children. The taller of the two teachers, a frosted blond with long red fingernails, spoke first.

“Errr...excuse me, sir. What are you doing on this playground?”

“This boy had a rope wrapped around his neck,” Brian said. “If you were paying attention to what was going on out here, I wouldn’t be on this playground.”

The second teacher, a squat woman with a bad perm and thick glasses, turned her attention to the boy. “Are you okay, Tommy?” she asked.

Tommy wiped the tears and his nose on the sleeve of a jacket that needed washing almost as badly as he did, and nodded without speaking.

The shorter of the two teachers came over and offered her hand. “C’mon, Tommy, let’s go inside and let the nurse have a look at you.”

As Tommy walked to the stairs, Brian heard several girls giggle and point out the wet spot on the front of Tommy’s khaki pants. Pants that may have fit him well––two grades back.

The taller teacher turned and hissed at them, “That’ll be enough of that.” She clapped her hands to get the children’s attention. “Let’s line up people,” she said. She walked over to Brian and whispered, “Are you sure the rope was around his neck?”

Already working on damage control, he thought. “Check out the marks on his throat,” he said. “You tell me.”

She turned to the group of kids. “You children have some explaining to do!”

Brian saw Sam lining up behind his teacher. He gave his father a little wave from the waist and Brian waved back. He jumped down from the jungle gym, wincing as a searing jolt of pain shot through his twisted knee. He could see the principal scurrying down the blacktop leading to the playground ––alerted, he assumed, by the teacher who had taken Tommy into the building.

Mrs. Hartman stood in front of him and extended her hand. It was firm and cold. His hand almost enveloped hers.

“Mr. Barrett, isn’t it?” she said. “I understand we need to thank you.”

“Well, I think I was reacting more than anything,” Brian replied.

“Don’t underestimate what you did. Your quick actions may have saved a child from a terrible injury.”

“One thing I do know––this is right up there on my list of strange stuff. If I had gotten here a couple of seconds later, you would have had a whole schoolyard witnessing a hanging.” Brian’s knee ached like a bad tooth and he sat sidesaddle on a spring-mounted metal dolphin to take the pressure off it.

“What brought this on?” she asked.

“I wish I knew. I was looking out of my back windows and I saw this boy––I think they called him Tommy––standing up there.”

Brian nodded toward the play set. “I caught him just before he jumped.”

“I’ve been in education almost thirty years and I thought I’d seen it all, but this is...”

“Unthinkable,” Brian said. “Yeah, well, I’m about to make it worse.”

“What do you mean?’

“There was a group of kids standing right where you are now, watching Tommy get ready to take a dive and I’ll hesitate to even repeat this. I heard a kind of group murmur, just barely audible, but I’m sure they were chanting ‘JUMP…JUMP.’”

The principal’s eyes widened, then narrowed skeptically. “Maybe we’d better talk in my office,” she said. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

What does New Hampshire represent in Blood Club?

Why is Richard (the Native American medicine man) an important character?

What does Goldie (the golden retriever that appears at the end of each section) represent?

Who is the true hero of Blood Club?

Was Brian’s fate inevitable?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from author Walt Schnabel:

Blood Club is a modern day myth, or hero’s journey, that pits the protagonist, Brian Barrett, against an ancient and unlikely evil that has nested in a small New Hampshire town. Barrett, a reluctant warrior, realizes that he must wage a battle with this malevolent force to prevent it from consuming his family.

Mythology is an ancient form that developed from the storytelling traditions of indigenous people around the world. A mythological structure seemed a natural fit in developing story structure for my book given my love of supernatural elements and knowledge of Native American spirituality.

Good and evil are natural forces that perpetually struggle for dominance of the human race. People that are purely evil or purely good are rare – but they do exist. Brian Barrett, the main character in my book, faces the forces of darkness that dwell within himself and in the village of Barlow, NH. The opening paragraph of my book metaphorically sets the tone for the battle that ensues: “The long New Hampshire winter had been reduced to dirty piles of snow that hid in the shadows where the spring sun could not yet reach. Sugarhouse alchemy was beginning to convert the rising lifeblood of maple trees into amber gold as daylight waged its ancient battle with the darkness.”

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Member Reviews

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  "Blood Club"by FriendshipSisters (see profile) 02/28/11

This is the story of a family new to town. There are many mysteries involving the towns citizens. Twists and turns keep you interested with a surprise ending.

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